I’m supposed to write a roughly monthly column for Christians on the Left, but I’ve failed at that recently. Partly it’s because there’s so much noise at the moment, so much opinion, so little certainty, that I quite often think that the last thing anyone needs is me spouting off again. People talking about faith and politics seem so much more qualified, knowledgable and eloquent than me, i’ve silenced myself. If only some other people thought like that occasionally. That said, recently I’ve been reading Andy Flannagan’s fantastic book “Those Who Show Up” and it has rocked me to the core in the space of two chapters, so here I am again, writing about something I know very little about.
Andy’s book is a call for a both-and kind of approach to faith and politics. We can bring the prophetic voice calling for change, development, justice and progress from the sidelines. Sometimes that is needed. Sometimes it is the only course of action available. At other times, I would say mainly in Andy’s thesis, the real effect can be made by those who offer themselves within the system or the process. Are we willing to suffer endless meetings, bureaucracy, red tape, hold ups and so on? Are we willing to commit to a group of people, to foster community in an area, to seek justice and quality of life for all, not just the people who are like us? Are we willing to be frustrated continually, and yet remain faithful to the vision that we have and are working out? It sounds a lot like the Church of England to me.
I remember being intensely frustrated with the CofE as a firebrand-y unthinkingly conservative evangelical teenager. I was conservative because I was told to be. At least I stood for God’s ideals, I thought. I thought the CofE a hopelessly outmoded and outdated institution in which the Holy Spirit and its transforming power was not present or evident, and that it hadn’t been for some time. I thought this because I couldn’t work out what the CofE stood for. It never seemed to have a firm position on anything. It was boring, lifeless and so on and so on and boringly so on. Now, at the grand old age of 30 I find myself more excited about being part of an established Church than ever. “A Christian presence in every community” the streamline says. A sacramental presence in every community more like, as Christians embedded in the lives of their local communities show something of the light and life of Jesus to all, where all are prayed for, whether they be knowingly part of a church or not, where no-one is cast out, no-one is forgotten. Christians aren’t called to separate themselves from their communities. They are called to be at the heart of them. They’re called to set the agenda, not dogmatically or doctrinally, but in terms of the living of lives which infectiously, even contagiously, spread love, joy, peace, justice and hope. They do this by pointing to God, seeking the benefit of others over themselves. We can’t say, or sing, that we are seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, or that we want to glorify, or lift him high on the one hand, and then put ourselves first on the other. What would our politics look like if we committed to putting others and God before ourselves?
Sometimes we need to get angry, to rant and rave. At other times, we need to lovingly coax things along, bringing light in to places of darkness, hope into places where it is lacking. Andy is quite right though, it’s all very well talking about it, but what are we actually willing to do? How much will we sacrifice? Will we think of the other or seek only health, wealth and happiness for ourselves? Is it all about prosperity and growth?
All I can say is, after two chapters, I’ve taken the plunge and joined my first political party.
Goodness knows what’ll happen when I read the rest of it.
So I suppose this is where I (finally) get to my (highly-opinionated) point. For those of us who say that we follow Jesus and put the agenda of the kingdom before everything else, there has to somewhere be the acceptance that eschatology, the end times and the age to come, play a huge role in the shaping of our faith. Christianity is a future-facing faith. As we are forgiven and freed for joyful obedience, we are freed not to look back, but to look forward, to a time when man’s inhumanity to man will be no more, when all our hopes will be realised, all our fears and sorrows will be no more, where the meek will have inherited the earth, where the last will have finished their race and come in first, where the riches we stored up for ourselves on Earth will have been eaten up and destroyed, and what we will be left with is the question, “what did you do to the least of this, my brothers? What did you therefore do to me?” We have a leader, a pattern maker for our lives who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom payment that we might have live, have it to the full, and share out of the abundance that we have with others.
As we show up this Thursday, let’s not leave it there. Let’s continually show up. Let’s offer our lives in the service of the voiceless, the marginalised, the dispossessed, those who are discriminated against. Let’s find ways to serve, rather than to seek to gain power, authority and to be served ourselves. Let’s cast off any sense of entitlement, clinging only to our one true birthright, to be called children and friends of God, because he chose to call us that, and because Jesus made it possible.
Who knows whether I’m right or not? More than likely at times we need to be on the sidelines too, or marching in the demonstrations, signing petitions, calling and holding elected representatives to account, but more than ever, it seems to me that it might just be the moment to look inside ourselves and ask the question of what God might be asking or encouraging of us in the places where we are? Where might we be being sent? Are we willing to go? What are we hoping for when we show up?